Methadone costs push addicts back to heroin
AM - Tuesday, 24 June , 2008 08:18:00
Reporter: Michael Edwards
TONY EASTLEY: A new report has found recovering drug users are struggling to meet the costs of methadone programs, with some relapsing into addiction.
Methadone is regarded by many experts as the best way to get people off heroin.
But research done by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology says the pharmacy costs associated with it are too high for many users.
It's found some are resorting to sex work and crime to pay for their treatment.
Michael Edwards has this report.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: The study focused on 120 recovering heroin addicts living on low incomes.
All were attempting to beat their habits through a methadone program.
The author of the study, Dr James Rowe - a drug expert from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, says methadone is the best way to treat heroin dependency.
JAMES ROWE: People can find some stability they are removed from committing crime they are removed from sex work. They attain a degree of stability in their lives. They're able to re-enter employment or education, they can even start addressing some of the reasons why they were using drugs in the first place.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: But Dr Rowe's research found it's not that easy for these people to sustain a methadone program financially.
The drug itself is paid for by the Federal Government but in many parts of the country people still have to cover a dispensing fee charged by pharmacists.
This fee is usually $60 per fortnight.
Dr Rowe says this is too much for many people struggling with bare necessities of life.
JAMES ROWE: Those on income support who are living on very little income who also have to try and pay for the basic necessities of life - in terms of accommodation and food, many of whom are also looking after families, yeah really do struggle.
For some it represents 15 to 20 per cent of their fortnightly income, which is no small percentage.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: And James Rowe says there can disastrous consequences when for whatever reason; they can no longer afford to pay.
JAMES ROWE: They get kicked off the program; they still have a dependency that can't be met by legal means so they end up back on heroin with all the costs that, that entails.
You know the crime that's involved, the sex work that's involved, the overdose, the loss of a family member. It's ah… yeah the costs, the costs are quite incredible.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Dr Rowe says the solution is for the Federal Government to pick up the cost.
JAMES ROWE: Most medications under the PBS are supplied to people who are suffering from you know, other lifestyle induced conditions such as diabetes 2 or high cholesterol, those medications are supplied, the cost is subsidised, and the dispensing fee is completely subsidised. So they don't pay any dispensing fee.
So it's just those on opiate maintenance programs that have to pay a dispensing fee. And there is no real rational reason for that to be the case; it's basically a human rights argument.
TONY EASTLEY: RMIT drug researcher Dr James Rowe ending Michael Edward's report.